Why Do I Need a Recovery Drink?
I remember my first encounter with a protein powder. I mixed it in water because I didn’t want the extra calories of the whole milk my mom bought (I was 15). And with a spoon which was also a big mistake. It tasted like warm garbage! I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to drink it. I’m sure glad we’ve come a long way in flavoring since then. Of course, taste isn’t the reason for a protein powder, and I stomached it anyway because I wanted to improve my recovery from exercise (and be better than everyone else on my team).
We’ve come a long way with flavor, but we’ve come even further with our understanding of sports nutrition as a whole. Such as, exactly how much protein and carbohydrate are necessary to recover from exercise, when it should be consumed, what types are best, and how carbs and protein can do their job even better when paired with other nutrients. The information goes beyond knowing just what “works.” We know what works! We want to know what works best. What is optimal?
What are the Optimal Amounts of Carbohydrate and Protein Post-Exercise?
The most important factors in nutrition are amounts. Research has shown over and over again that carbohydrate consumed shortly after exercise enhances rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis. This is incredibly important for endurance athletes because we use our legs for almost every activity. If the legs aren’t chock full of glycogen, our performance suffers.
The recommendations for post-exercise carbohydrate for optimal glycogen resynthesis are 1.0 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (1-3). It is proportional to body size to meet individual needs. If you’re wondering why it is not proportional to the duration of exercise, it is because with increasing durations, carbohydrates should be consumed during exercise.
The amounts of protein are slightly less than that of carbohydrate. Specifically, 25% of the amount of carbohydrate appears to be the optimal amount of protein. That amount equates to 0.25 – 0.30 grams of high quality protein per kilogram body weight (4,5). High-quality indicates that the protein has greater quantities of essential amino acids that are, well, essential for recovery.
The amount of protein is directly related to the essential amino acid, leucine. Leucine is the amino acid in protein that is responsible for initiating recovery processes. Research has shown that protein that has all of the amino acids except for leucine does NOT trigger muscle protein synthesis (6). Leucine is optimally dosed at 0.05 grams per kilogram body weight (7). Adding leucine to as little as 6 grams of protein produces a rate of muscle protein synthesis equal to a 25 g dose of whey protein (8).
What Types of Carbohydrate and Protein are Optimal for Post-Exercise Recovery?
The name of the game post-exercise is speed! Exercise makes muscles more receptive to nutrients like carbs and protein. Thus, we want carbohydrates and proteins that are absorbed quickly, so they can get to the muscles while they still have increased sensitivity.
For carbohydrates, this means sugar. However, our intestines and muscle can only absorb so much at one time, so a mix of fast and medium speed carbohydrates may be optimal. Also, a mix of glucose and fructose is optimal to take advantage of the individual glucose and fructose transporters that are present along the gut. Have you ever had a sugary treat then feel really tired 30 – 60 minutes later? That would be reactive hypoglycemia. The sugar causes more insulin to be released, and after the sugar is absorbed out of the blood, the insulin is still present, reducing blood glucose below the starting amount. Therefore, just a little bit of slow-digesting carbohydrate can be consumed to prevent hypoglycemic symptoms associated with sugar. If you do NOT get any of those symptoms, you may be slightly less insulin sensitive than would be considered ideal.
For proteins, the fastest and most effective protein is, and always has been, whey protein (9). Whey is a high-quality dairy protein with greater quantities of leucine than other proteins. Whey protein contains 9 – 12% of its amino acids as leucine. You may have seen different types of whey, such as isolate or concentrate. These two terms simply refer to the process of obtaining whey from milk – it is either isolated or concentrated. Isolate contains 90% protein (with the rest being carbohydrate, fat, minerals, etc.) and concentrate contains 80% protein. Whey hydrolysate can come from either a protein isolate or protein concentrate. Hydrolysate means that some of the proteins have already begun to be broken down so that they are easier (and faster) to digest.
A well-kept secret of the supplement industry is that whey protein hydrolysate, despite the name, is only 3 – 5 % hydrolyzed, so most of it is just a regular ol’ protein. We think that’s bulls***. If you’re looking for a protein hydrolysate and it doesn’t say the degree of hydrolysis, it’s probably not more than 5%.
When is the Optimal Time to Consume Carbohydrate and Protein Post-Exercise?
As soon as possible.
Really, as soon as is reasonable. Don’t stress out about it, but make it point of consideration. Definitely within 2 hours, as research has shown that muscles begin to desensitize at that point. The rate of muscle glycogen synthesis is 45% slower at 2 hours than immediately post-exercise in response to the same quantity of carbohydrate (10). Desensitization is actually occurring within minutes following exercise, but the process is gradual.
Protein timing has a similar pattern. The difference between consuming protein immediately or 3 hours post-exercise is the difference between either repairing damaged muscle or not aiding the process at all (10-12). Delaying protein intake following exercise up to 2 hours can still increase protein synthesis, yet the increase immediately post-exercise will be better than if 2 hours delayed.
Protein and carbohydrate should also be consumed together. If you were going to do both, I don’t know why you would consume them at different times, but in any case… In an investigation comparing carbohydrate + protein compared to carbohydrate alone, the athletes receiving the carbohydrate + protein supplement had 55% greater performance in a subsequent bout of exercise than those receiving only carbohydrate. Moreover, protein and carbohydrate co-ingestion versus carbohydrate only can reduce muscle damage by as much as 83% in response to cardiovascular exercise (13).
Plus, having a nice, tasty shake after each workout also reinforces a habit of exercising.
Why Most Recovery Drinks are NOT Optimal
When formulating RecoverElite, we performed a “competitor analysis” of all the recovery drinks we could find. The results of which we share with you in the above table. The drinks highlighted red do NOT have the two most essential features of a good recovery drink: 1) a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and 2) whey protein as the primary protein source. We cannot, in good faith, recommend use of these products for recovery because they simply do not meet the basic carbohydrate and protein requirements of athletes.
The 4 products highlighted yellow do have a 4:1 ratio and use whey protein, but they lack leucine in a quantity sufficient to facilitate the best recovery. For a 50kg athlete, a total of 2.5 grams leucine is required (assume that 10% of whey is leucine). Therefore, those products would require consuming excess carbohydrate to meet muscle recovery needs, which isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but it is less than ideal. Look at the column titled “Number of Servings for Efficacy.” That is how many servings of that product would be necessary to equal 1 serving of RecoverElite and the amount that is sufficient for a 50kg athlete. Off to the right, that is the cost per serving after adjustment for the product to work as it is intended.
RecoverElite features a 4:1 ratio, is mostly composed of sugar to rapidly refuel muscle glycogen, has 12 grams of protein from whey hydrolysate with an additional 1.42 grams of leucine from L-leucine for optimal muscle recovery, a full profile of electrolytes, and three complimentary ingredients for enhanced nutrient absorption, metabolism, and glucose tolerance. One serving is meant to be adequate for a "typical" female endurance athlete, and it scales perfectly to 1.5 servings for a "typical" male endurance athlete. SizeOn is intended for weightlifting crowds, which ironically, don’t need as much carbohydrate, but it would actually work fairly well for endurance athletes, so it’s also highlighted green.
Why RecoverElite Will be the New Standard
While less than a quarter of recovery products don’t even cover the basics, RecoverElite goes above and beyond the call of duty to exceed expectations of a recovery drink. Yes, it has carbohydrates and protein in optimal quantities, and these are the most important considerations, but RecoverElite is the best for other reasons.
RecoverElite is the only post-workout product to feature a whey protein hydrolysate with more than 5% of the total protein being hydrolyzed. What is the point if most of the protein is not hydrolyzed? There is no point. Hydrolyzed proteins digest faster and with less gastrointestinal distress than intact proteins. Unique peptides generated during the hydrolysis process have been found to promote fat metabolism (14-15). In fact, in participants supplementing with whey hydrolysate, whey concentrate, whey concentrate + lactoferrin, or carbohydrate during 8 weeks of training, only the whey hydrolysate was able to reduce body fat percentage (16).
Before nutrients can get to the muscles (where we need them), they need to first be absorbed from the gut and into the blood. AstraGin increases the number of specific intestinal transporters to increase absorption of amino acids, like leucine, and peptides, such as those in whey hydrolysate, to further enhance recovery (17). If nutrients remain in the intestine, they’re just going to fall out the other side. What’s the sense in that?
L-Carnitine is a structural component of enzymes that are responsible for fatty acids entering the mitochondria so they may be metabolized into ATP. However, its role in recovery is even more apparent. Supplementing carnitine at 1 - 3 grams per day accelerates the repair of muscle damage by enhancing blood flow to damaged muscle tissue (18). More nutrients in the blood, more blood flow to muscles in need. So far, so good.
Endurance athletes require large quantities of carbohydrates to fuel exercise. However, investigations are beginning to show that this does not come without a cost. Replacing carbohydrates burned during exercise actually impairs glucose tolerance extending into the next day (19). Berberine is an herb that is used to increase insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance with robust effects. Efficaciously dosed at 100mg of GlucoVantage® Dihydroberberine, the berberine in RecoverElite makes sure carbohydrates and proteins get out of the blood and into the muscles.
Recover Elite - From Start to Finish
With all that, additional B vitamins to support healthy metabolism, and a full profile of electrolytes, RecoverElite is the total package. It is the best that science has to offer, hands down. RecoverElite is the best recovery product for endurance athletes because it contains the most efficacious doses of carbohydrate and protein, carbs and protein in the optimal ratio, leucine to maximize muscle recovery, vitamins, minerals, and so much more. We can’t wait for you to try it, and see the difference for yourself! You’ll be so happy you made the switch!
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- Garlick PJ. The role of leucine in the regulation of protein metabolism. The Journal of nutrition. Jun 2005;135(6 Suppl):1553S-1556S.
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- Churchward-Venne TA, Burd NA, Mitchell CJ, et al. Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. The Journal of physiology. Jun 1 2012;590(11):2751-2765.
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- Roberts MD, Cruthirds CL, Lockwood CM, et al. Comparing serum responses to acute feedings of an extensively hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate versus a native whey protein concentrate in rats: a metabolomics approach. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme. Feb 2014;39(2):158-167.
- Lockwood CM, Roberts MD, Dalbo VJ, et al. Effects of Hydrolyzed Whey versus Other Whey Protein Supplements on the Physiological Response to 8 Weeks of Resistance Exercise in College-Aged Males. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Jan 2017;36(1):16-27.
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- Taylor HL, Wu CL, Chen YC, Wang PG, Gonzalez JT, Betts JA. Post-Exercise Carbohydrate-Energy Replacement Attenuates Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Tolerance the Following Morning in Healthy Adults. Nutrients. Jan 25 2018;10(2).